Hearing Without Listening:
In the modern age, we are constantly in a state of ‘hearing’. The best adapted of us have learned to listen to what is important and tune out the rest of the aural bombardment we live in. By this, I mean that unless we have a hearing impairment, we are constantly going through the physiological process of our ears picking up sound waves that are then transmitted to our brains. This is part of the reason why so many of us, including myself, love to be out in the deep woods or other wilderness to seek as close as possible the peacefulness of hearing only what we seek to hear. Of course, the reality is that even in the most isolated places there are plenty of sounds to be head and the wisest of us listen closely.
In the context of this assignment, however, what is meant of course is the hearing and listening to other human beings in circumstances in which communication might be intended. Even as we do our work, many of us listen to music or other communications. Listening in this context means processing what others say and do, attending to this to understand (Thomas & Levine, 1994) and then responding back as needed (Janusik, 2005).
With this in mind, we often hear without listening. Sometimes this is with good result. Other times, not as decent. In any given day, we have competing stimuli be it the television, music, conversations of others. Even as we seek to selectively focus on what we are meant to listen to we need to overcome a plethora of barriers. These range from our own mental distractions to perhaps having to understand jargon and slang used by others that we do not fully understand. Even when we have achieved all of this multiple times a day if not constantly, we then need to remember what was truly said and meant and then provide significant feedback. This then is what necessitates active listening.
Is Active Listening All the Time Necessary for Effective Communication:
Active listening to the extent possible is crucial to reaching listening fidelity. This means reaching a state where the thoughts of the listener match the thoughts and intention of the person producing the message (Fitch-Hauser, Powers, O’Brien, & Hanson, 2007) and effective communication is had. The reality though is that on any given day, listeners have different goals depending on their circumstances. All of this adds up to the fact that though it is, of course, vital to actively listening all of the time for the best and most effective communications, when we are blessed enough to do this well, we will still have different listening styles that appropriate for a myriad of reasons depending on the variant goal from empathy to information gathering and the skillful communicator will learn to adapt to each style as these become appropriate.
What studies have successfully evidenced is that the better our active listening skills the better it is to ourselves and for the benefit of others around us. Being an effective listener aids our career aspirations (Wolvin & Coakley, 1991). It saves time and money (Rubin, Hafer & Arata, 2000). Effective communication also creates opportunities and strengthens relationships.
Three Challenges to Effective Communication:
Three challenges that I relate to the most that have served as barriers to effective communication in my life are:
- Multitasking: I am hard pressed to think of a modern office scenario that does not require that we divide our attention to urgently needed tasks. In my last position, I fielded incoming and outgoing telephone calls seeking to assist Veterans unable to handle their own Veterans Affairs benefits and/or their families or other persons on a myriad of different scenarios why attempting to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible and at times auditing financial accountings while on the phone with these persons attempting to reconcile and sort through multiple issues to come to the best conclusion that might be able to be reached for the maximum persons able to be satisfied. It was a constant barrage of information that had to be sorted through to effectively communicate and resolve each scenario to its best possible outcome. This was extremely challenging and required skilled, effective communication. Training and preparation played a large part in the awards I received in that capacity. All the same, I believe that was and were better ways of handling this. I believe it to be quite accurate that despite appearances that effective multitasking cannot really be done regardless of how needed it might be seen by higher level personnel (Wallis, 2006).
2. There is perhaps no greater more powerful a lesson that I wish I had been able to instill inside myself than to have overcome my challenged attitude of having and feeling that I must be heard in any argument. I still struggle with this constantly. Be it during arguments that have seldom been as important as they seemed at the time to communicating with my darling daughters. Regardless of how right I am or believe myself to be, there is incredible power to be realized in taking the approach of simply stopping talking and arguing and instead to listen. This part of the unit text really jumped out at me that in “the at of listening you are empowering communication partners to reveal their thoughts, insights, fears, values and beliefs” (Fletcher, 1999). In doing this, as I have noticed the few times I realize this enough to grab hold of this I have learned much like I have in my physical journeys there is a lot of value in being lost and some of the best things found have been found in shutting up and listening to things I ardently believe I disagree with or just know isn’t right. But of all the things found in doing this the best of these have been the connections made (Dipper, Black & Bryan, 2005). I often repeat an old adage that while not knowing its origins, I firmly believe in. We, as humans are created with two ears and one mouth. These should be used in that proportion. There is the solution to not only the concerns raised in this but also those raised below.
3. Hand in hand with B is C. In my life, a challenge that I have had to overcome as best that I am able is that of defensive listening. When I am in an ardent disagreement, I can be quite difficult, responding aggressively and must confess that at times, I stop listening to what the other side has to say. This is not good. Table 6.2 points out a number of strategies that I will start to incorporate. The thing is that I am not super argumentative. But once attacked, I need to have the foresights listed there to overcome this challenge. I need to focus more on hearing the other speaker out while considering their motivations more than simply their words and nonverbal communications. Calm feedback and a kind demeanor might be better than past strategies. Now, if only I can think of these things when finally angered. It takes a lot to anger me. But, once I am angry, I do not necessarily like that part of my behavior. It has proven effective in its own right when it needs to be, but, I cannot help but wonder if things might have gone differently and been much better handled.
What do strategies do you employ in effective, active listening, particularly in disagreements?
O’Hair, D., & Wiemann, M. (2011). Real Communication + The Essential Guide to Interpersonal Communication, 2nd Edition.
All other references omitted.